Tuesday, November 2

What Am I Looking At?: Figurative Paintings That Aren't

Two Paintings by Roger White (via Rachel Uffner Gallery)
When you see something you like, you know it immediately. But knowing what it is you're enjoying is always harder to define. Many of the paintings I've been thinking about lately reflect that feeling pretty literally. These are images about image making and they are influencing my own decisions about paint.

The paintings I'm thinking about might articulate some sort of tangible space but with non-objective shapes. They do not quite fall within Abstraction.I thought the paintings of Roger White work this way. White's paintings are comprised of non-objective and organic forms making up patterns. But in some of the paintings the patterns deviate and sometimes the abstract forms feel reminiscent of actual objects, like a hat, lampshade or folded something. But the forms never materialize beyond that and ultimately we're left looking at only the relationships of a painting process.

Thomas Nozkowski (via Portalen Portalen)
Effulgence Jennifer Shimatsu 2008 (via 1430)

I've started to understand my own paintings to be over complicated - or rather overwrought. I was always taught what the painter Thomas Nozkowski, featured in this past Sunday NY Times, believes, "Too much information is a trap for the viewer". But have only recently understood that. It simply requires work, which gives you perspective and experience until you can identify when enough is enough like Nozkowski, "For me a painting is finished when I finally understand why I wanted to do it in the first place".

Some of the paintings I have also been thinking about use or recall stylistic elements from other mediums. Jennifer Shimatsu's giant abstract paintings use a distinctly photographic or film oriented palette (an affect much better experienced in person). Paintings that could be about many things and although they have no obvious representational elements, their color decisions recall something definite.

Much of the work I have been looking is decidedly more abstract than figurative. But like Angelina Gualdoni's paintings, there is a blurring of figure and ground. There is a suggestion that although the image itself is non-committed it still exists and relates to a real place.

Mise En Scene Angelina Gualdoni 2009 (via Asya Geisberg Gallery)
After seeing the photograph used for this NY Times Style article, I got thinking if this phenomenon of working directly in between the traditional Abstract and Representational genres has been affected by all other sorts of technology. The photograph for that article is a good example. Besides it probably being shot for use in the physical newspaper on Sunday, in which text was placed inside the image, it's actually pretty strange: more than half of the picture plane is a wall, severely out of focus with bathroom items and wall fixture. Obviously it's this way not only for layout, but to draw attention to the figures in focus - but those blurry objects remain more interesting to me. And how often are we presented with things like that, whether because of technologies limitations (like close up posters passed on a bus) or photography? How is this changing our ideas of what "representing" something means?

These paintings I have been thinking about and others linger exactly where I am about to plunge: in the middle of representation and abstraction. In the middle of just about everything. And my own paintings are just as uncertain as that statement sounds. But also certain, like that statement sounds: my paintings are becoming about nothing at all.

Semi-Related: This is a neat idea, artists (of all kinds) explaining their work to their parents. This could be expanded upon.

UPDATE: "I have never thought of myself as a geometric painter, but I have always thought of myself as an improviser." Two Coats of Paint points to the Brooklyn Rail's great interview of Thomas Nozkowski here. And also, Paddy Johnson gives Nozkowski's show a bad review.

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